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Celebrating the Continuance of the Indigenous 
Caribbean Cultures: Review of an Exhibition at the 
National Museum of the American Indian 

Jorge Estevez 

On March 22 and 23, 2003, more than 900 people attended an historic two-day event held 
at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Taino 
and Carib community members from across the Caribbean were invited to participate in 
the museum's Expressive Culture Series program. Participants included: Dr. Jose 
Barreiro (Taino) representing Cuba, Prosper Paris (Carib) representing the island of 
Waitikubuli (Dominica), Nina M. R. Aponte (Taino) representing Boriken (Puerto Rico), 
Ricardo Bharath (Carib) representing Cairi (Trinidad), and Candida Peralta (Taino) 
representing Quisqueya (Dominican Republic). [1] 

The program was inspired by an exhibit titled "The New Old World, Living beyond the 
Mvth" by photographer Marisol Villanueva, seen in the photo at left standing next to Dr. 
Jose Barreiro, a member of Nacion Taina (Taino Nation) and a professor at Cornell 
University, during a lecture at the NMAI. This photo exhibit focused on surviving Taino 
and Carib communities in the Caribbean. The invited participants for the Expressive 
Culture Series program were all featured in the photo exhibit themselves. Many of our 
programs are done in conjunction with existing exhibits and we invite people who are 
showcased or have objects pertaining to their specific cultures to participate in our 
programs. [2] 

I first heard of Marisol while I on a field trip to The Tohono Odham Indian reservation in 
Arizona. I received a phone call from Marisol requesting information on Tainos in the 

Dominican Republic and the possibility of having a photographic exhibit at the National 
Museum of the American Indian. Marisol at the time was involved in a project 
documenting various Indigenous communities in North, Central and South America. It 
was at this point she became interested in the Caribbean. Since our initial conversation it 
took nearly three years between negotiations and postponements due to the tragedy of 
9/11 to get the exhibit and program going. [3] 

This exhibition was unique in that, for the first time Taino and Carib people were 
showcased together. Although there is a fair amount of documentation on the 
continuation of Carib culture, there is very little on the Taino. For our museum visitors 
who were under the notion that the Taino were extinct, as has been written in countless 
books, it was a welcome change to be able to visually witness that Taino extinction was a 
myth. To see pictures of Carib and Taino people making casabe bread made many realize 
that the real story of the indigenous people of the Caribbean is only now being told. The 
exhibit accomplished its goal, which was to provoke people interested in the region to 
take a closer look at the history, culture and customs of the contemporary Caribbean. [4] 

The program commenced with a curatorial lecture by the photographer Marisol 
Villanueva and by Dr. Jose Barreiro, who represented the community of Caridad de los 
Indios in Cuba (community chief, Don Panchito Ramirez, was unable to attend due to an 
illness). Later that afternoon, community representatives sat at five different tables set up 
in the museum's rotunda area. Each table exhibited objects from the communities being 
represented. [5] 

Museum visitors and staff were able to have informal dialogue and interaction with our 
guests. Our staff learned many new things about contemporary Carib and Taino life 
ways. For some visitors it was the first time they had ever heard of Taino or Carib 
survival in the Caribbean. For many others it was a get-together with their island 
relatives. There are many people of both Taino and Carib descent in the New York area. 
Community members of the Taino Nation were present as were representatives of the 
Garifuna people, also known as the Black Carib. There were also Taino family group 
members such as Maisti Yucayeque Taino, Taino del Norte, T.A.L.K, Tanama and 
Guajataca, etc. [6] 

Dr. Jose Barreiro's table had literature available about the Cuban Indian experience. 
Working along with Jose were his jimaguas (twin boys, seen in the photo above), who 
enjoyed themselves immensely selling books authored by their father. [7] 

At the next table sat Nina M. R. Aponte (in the photo above), who despite feeling ill, 
shared with the public her beautiful necklaces, made from indigenous seeds found in 
Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Nina was delightful and very helpful with other 
participants who did not speak English. Nina is bilingual and has done workshops in 
Puerto Rico on cassabe bread making and Taino identity. [8] 

Prosper Paris's table (shown in the photo below, where Prosper is joined by NMAI staff 
member Juanita Velasco, an Ixil Maya), had all kinds of Carib Indian woven baskets, 
woven fans, toy canoes, and Carib music CDs from the Island of Dominica. Prosper was 
very friendly with museum guests, and the museum staff were very impressed with him. 
Prosper is very active in his community, where he works as an eco-tourism guide. [9] 

Ricardo Bharath, Chief of the Santa Rosa Carib community in Trinidad, had the most 
intricate, woven baskets on display. Ricardo also brought cassabe bread from his 
community to share with the public. Ricardo Bharath is on the right in the photo below, 
speaking with David Kahian Campos (Taino-Boriken), who had visited the Carib 
Community in Arima, Trinidad in 1998. [10] 

Candida Castillo de Peralta, who hails from the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic, 
brought cassabe, cassabe making utensils, as well as other kinds of products made from 
yucca (manioc). Ricardo Bharath was very impressed with her casabe as was she, of his 
and Prosper Paris 's baskets. Candida also received seed necklaces from Nina Aponte. 
The spirit of sharing and giving was particularly contagious this day. It was indeed a very 
good thing to see. Afterward, Marisol Villanueva, who worked meticulously on her "New 
Old World" exhibit, gave a tour that concluded the event. Candida Peralta, in the blue 
suit, is shown at the centre of the photo below with Wakonax of the Taino Nation to the 
left Guaraguaorix of the Maisiti Yucayeque Taino to the right. [1 1] 

For my part, as a Taino from Quisqueya, I was extremely pleased. This was the 
culmination of three years of work. Although I have been doing Public Programs at the 
Smithsonian for eight years now, I had no idea how hard it was to get an exhibit off the 
ground and could not have accomplished this without the support of my supervisor 
Shawn Termin (Lakota) and Education Manager Johanna Gorelick, who were both 
phenomenal. To have Taino and Carib people together in one space, sharing stories and 
comparing the cultures of our peoples and homelands, was a dream come true for me, as I 
am sure it was for others as well. I hope it was just the beginning of ongoing Caribbean 
Amerindian cooperation. [12] 


Jorge Estevez, a Taino from the Dominican Republic, is Coordinator of Public Programs 
at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. He is also on the editorial 
board of the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink ( . 

First draft submitted: 06 May 2003 

Revised version: 25 May 2003 

Second revised version: 28 August 2003 

Published: 29 August 2003 


Please cite this article as follows, including paragraph numbers if necessary: 

Estevez, Jorge (2003). Celebrating the Continuance of the Indigenous Caribbean 
Cultures: Review of an Exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian. [12 

paragraphs] KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
[On-line Journal]. Available at: [Date of 
access: Day, Month, Year]. 

© 2003. Jorge Estevez, KACIKE. All photographs provided by courtesy of Jorge Estevez. 
All rights reserved.